the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

In Support of Lack of Privacy

Younger users online are increasingly becoming worried about their privacy.   We saw this coming, right?

From the NY Times:

Sam Jackson, a junior at Yale who started a blog when he was 15 and who has been an intern at Google, said he had learned not to trust any social network to keep his information private. “If I go back and look, there are things four years ago I would not say today,” he said. “I am much more self-censoring. I’ll try to be honest and forthright, but I am conscious now who I am talking to.”

Many are applauding this movement of younger people embracing privacy.  Parents certainly don’t want their children failing to get into Harvard because of photos of them doing jello shots on Facebook.

Ms. Liu is not just policing her own behavior, but her sister’s, too. Ms. Liu sent a text message to her 17-year-old sibling warning her to take down a photo of a guy sitting on her sister’s lap. Why? Her sister wants to audition for “Glee” and Ms. Liu didn’t want the show’s producers to see it. Besides, what if her sister became a celebrity? “It conjures up an image where if you became famous anyone could pull up a picture and send it to TMZ,” Ms. Liu said.

Makes sense right?  We went a little overboard online during the past few years, didn’t we?

The early years of the blogosphere can be considered either the “Golden Age” or the “Wild West” of social media, depending on your view of this privacy issue.  Right now, there seems to be a backlash against our openness, with “The Wild West” winning out.   In this scenario, we will soon be shaking our heads in disgust at our behavior, as if we fornicating in front of the Golden Calf as Moses climbed Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments.

“Who did we think we were — real writers and celebrities?”  we will ask ourselves.  “Did we actually think we were interesting and that we were supposed to EXPOSE OURSELVES to others, body and soul?”

Even in my circle of friends, I hear talk of mommybloggers pulling back and not posting photos of their kids.   There is a growing number of moms who see this as exploitation.

Bloggers have been nasty lately, fighting over what is appropriate to say to each other in public discourse.  Is it any wonder that bloggers are moving out of the public arena and shutting down their personal blogs, like urban folk running away to the suburbs.   Who needs the trouble?

The Wild West Blogosphere of the past few years has been chaotic and dangerous, a virtual Tombstone filled with dead bodies piled in the OK Corral, but it has also been lively, complete with big personalities and human drama.  Blogging would be boring without it.  If you look at today’s list of the “most influential bloggers, mom bloggers, or twitterers,” 99% of them are marketers, social media gurus or bloggers selling a Martha Stewart-style image.  What fun is that?

I see things differently.  The last few years have been the blogosphere’s “Golden Age.”   No one really thought about the ramifications of what they were doing.   And that was pretty radical.  Once privacy becomes central to blogging, what the hell is there to blog about in a personal blog other than the superficial?   Will bloggers now be afraid of “opening up?” knowing that every word will be embedded into Google search forever.

That would be a sad event.   The blogosphere will just be another professional arena.  In the last few years, I learned so much from direct contact with other bloggers — for instance, how rampant sexual abuse is in our society.   I met friends who are alcoholics.  I talked with bloggers with all sorts of illnesses that were once only whispered about only at home, such as cancer.  This sharing online came about for one reason — an agreed-upon  LACK OF PRIVACY.   We would be honest, and expected it in return.   Sometimes we would get judgmental, but mostly the whole point of blogging was to connect.  If the 1960s was all about letting it all hang out in a physical sense, the blogosphere of 2003-2010 was about letting it hang out emotionally.  Bloggers felt comfortable revealing their mental illnesses, their bad marriages, and their bad mothering techniques.  They were not worrying about how this information could be used AGAINST THEM.  Once that happened, it was over.  It becomes too dangerous.  And when even COLLEGE KIDS are afraid of looking stupid on Facebook, you know that corporate, sensible, puritanical America has won.  Oh, sure the drinking, sex, and drugs will continue on campuses across America, but it will always be someone ELSE who was doing it, not us.  The blogosphere will be like “Desperate Housewives” Wisteria Lane, suburban and glossy on the outside, but behind closed doors…

Remember when President Clinton said he smoked pot but didn’t inhale?  Doesn’t that seem silly now?  I thought the blogosphere was creating a new world.  I was already forseeing a future where that type of shit didn’t matter anymore.

Presidential Candidate 2020 Judith Grossman:  “As you can see from my Facebook photos, yes, I smoked pot… alot.  I’m a little embarrassed about that video of that threesome I had in graduate school, but since it is on YouTube already, what can I do?  At least I had a good time.  I know I bitched a lot about my mother on my blog, “I Hate My Mother,” but eventually we reconciled, and now my dear mother is in the audience with me today, my biggest supporter.  Hello, Mom.  Happy Mother’s Day.  My opponent has been playing dirty in his campaign, revealing those tweets I made on the evening of my abortion in 2016, but as you can see this NSFW photo my opponent put up on in 2012, he has plenty of shortcomings, if you know what I mean.  Does America really want this man fighting terrorism at home and overseas?”

I was hoping that people would just laugh at that speech.  Facebook would make all of us equal.  Someone had a gay experience in college?  Yawn.  Who hasn’t?  Your daughter showed her tits at Mardi Gras?  Like YOU didn’t?!

People would be judged by important things, such as kindness and commitment to justice.  I would hate to think because someone writes the word “fuck” on their blog that they might be unable to get a job with a law firm.  In my world, I would ONLY give a job to the person who had the balls to be real.

I am all for privacy.  I hate the data that Facebook collects on us because the purpose is to SELL US STUFF.  And I do believe we need to be careful with our privacy, especially with our families.  But I am not as afraid of the future.  Your kids are already growing up with a world with less “privacy.”  Live with it.  And maybe there is some good to this.  Is it possible that society has kept some issues out of sight and out of mind for two long, under the guise of privacy.  Would we rather live in the 1950s, where we feared sharing our dirty laundry — racism, sexism, rape, mental illness, etc?

As much as I hate the nastiness, trolls, fighting, and lack of privacy of today’s blogosphere, it is much better than a white-washed image of ourselves, filled with glossy filtered photos, constructed to attract PR firms and employees, each of us nothing more than an avatar in a multi-media resumes.

I have a dream.  One day, a proud Jewish mother will be playing mah jonng with her friends, and will go on Facebook to show her friends some recent photos of her daughter in college.

“Here’s Lisa as president of the student body at Harvard.  She has a perfect GPA.  Here’s Lisa with her Jewish boyfriend; he’s pre-Med.  And here’s Lisa showing her tits at the Mardi Gras last year.  She loved New Orleans!”


  1. wendy

    amen! (can i say that here? :O )

    i’m kinda glad kids might think twice about what they’re putting up on FB or how their “privacy” settings are decided, but man, twitter is turning into corp machine before my very eyes! which, yes, is BORING, people!

    and i was a lawyer and really only learned to say FUCK in law school, and more emphatically at law firms.

  2. Lou P.

    I pulled down 8+ years of online commentary when I got tired of e-mails with lines like “can you take that story out?” or “your column on New Orleans is the first thing that comes up when I googled my name, can you remove my name?” or “please take down the video of me so drunk that I couldn’t stand up.”

  3. terry

    And that’s why I’ve kept my blog away from my professional identity! I mean, it’s not hard for someone smart to make the connection, but I’ve never used my full name there, nor have I ever mentioned what I do for a living, nor do I link it to my FB or Twitter pages. Keeps it a little private, though online, there is no such thing as totaly privacy. Great post!

  4. Juli Ryan

    Yeah, I hate how Facebook takes my personal information and uses it to SELL me stuff. And I’m still a bit paranoid about showing my child’s photo to everyone.

    I’m not worried about pedophiles–I just don’t want to infringe on my child’s right to his own privacy.

    This may not be the mainstream view, but I’d like Facebook to be MORE public. If you don’t want something out in the open, don’t post it on Facebook (or on a computer).

    I’d like to be able to google my Facebook content (I can’t). I want to see a more open web, and break down these stupid walls. Trust me, whatever you are doing, it’s not that interesting. It really doesn’t need to be private.

    In the future, we’ll be living our lives more and more online. If everyone can see all our content, no one (like Facebook) can exploit us.

  5. Jack

    I pulled down 8+ years of online commentary when I got tired of e-mails with lines like “can you take that story out?”

    I receive emails like that but I am very slow to take down posts. It is done on a case by case basis and sometimes it is too damn bad.

    If your name is Lewinsky there isn’t a thing that my blog is going do to help or harm your reputation.

  6. Annie @ PhD in Parenting

    I wanted to comment on this from two perspectives.

    First, as a parent, spouse, daughter, friend, consultant, I am careful about what I reveal online about my kids, my partner, my parents, and my clients. I do not think it is my place to share their private business on the Internet. That means I don’t use my kids real names online, I don’t share overly embarrassing details, I don’t bitch about my spouse (except very minor laughable moments), I don’t reveal information that my clients would not be comfortable having made public. That is just about showing common sense and respect in my opinion.

    With regards to: “Someone had a gay experience in college? Yawn. Who hasn’t? Your daughter showed her tits at Mardi Gras? Like YOU didn’t?!” I agree. Everyone has things in their past that they may be embarrassed about and that perhaps they shouldn’t be embarrassed about because, hey, everyone did stuff like that. HOWEVER, if I was looking to hire someone and found all sorts of embarrassing things about them online, I probably wouldn’t hire them. Not because of the embarrassing things, but because they demonstrated a lack of discretion. I would be concerned that that person might be as indiscreet when it came to my company and our clients, as they were when it came to their own personal affairs.

  7. seekingelevation

    This is timely for me, since I’ve been thinking a lot lately on privacy issues (and I just read the NY Times article). I just don’t get a lot of it. I don’t understand why I’m not supposed to show pictures of my kids on the internet. They’re cute! I bring them out in public and show them off to anyone who will look at them. I get that I should think about how they will feel about the pictures I post, but isn’t that just common sense???

  8. V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios

    I’m always surprised when I Google someone’s name and turn up…nothing. I immediately wonder how it’s possible someone can be on the planet for decades and not leave a digital footprint somewhere. And truthfully, when I see that, it raises a lot of questions for me–about confidence, accomplishment, personality.

    As a PR writer, I have spent most of my career helping people be consistent in presenting themselves and their companies in the public. That said, I think there’s been a move away from appearing “perfect” and social media and reality TV have been part of that. There’s a desire now to be more human, approachable, to be someone that people relate to. There’s an increasing emphasis on telling stories in corporate writing, not just delivering a line.

    It isn’t a smooth transition though. There are still those who balk at anything that crosses the hard line they’ve drawn between their professional and personal lives/interests.

    Neil, do you remember that when first came out and began the then-revolutionary practice of recommending books to you based on your previous purchases, there were protests? Personally, I love strategic marketing. I love getting ads and recommendations targeted to my interests. It cuts through the clutter. It makes me pay attention.

    That said, I’m careful with social media sites but more free with my blog and my professional Web site, because they’re mine and I have far more control over them. Ultimately, I think the best way to control your reputation in the digital age is to have your own sites and post a lot. Then it’s far more likely that the first thing that surfaces with a search engine is something you’ve said about yourself, not something someone else said about you.

  9. A Vapid Blonde

    I started out using my real name and quickly felt uncomfortable with it. I felt censored so I switched everything to AVB…I feel I can be more open. I also try to write only about me and not others or work because that made me uncomfortable. I am thinking about eradicating the RL me altogether and becoming just A Vapid Blonde.

    I had a friend who suspended her twitter account because she was applying to grad schools and her tweets were showing up in google…I was mind boggled by this? My thought was how could some silly tweet affect her chances of being accepted? But I guess it does. Kind of sad that you are not supposed to have a personality or a sense of humor in your professional life.

  10. Caitlin

    I think V-Grrrl and a few others touched on something important, which is that it’s different when you’re referring to your own exploits vs. someone else’s. Have you noticed that it’s really hard to write about your own life without also writing about the people around you? How do you know whether they’d be comfortable sharing that embarrassing story about THEM online? Personally, I don’t mind sharing intimate details of my own life with whoever wants to hear them, but I’m pretty sure the people around me don’t want me blabbing about THEIR mental illnesses, THEIR drug choices, THEIR anger, THEIR frustrations. And, me being me, other people’s lives play into my own enough that it makes it very hard to write anything at all any more. It’s a strange tension.

    • Neil

      Caitlin — it’s even hard writing truthfully about other bloggers!

  11. Bootsy LaFontane

    Trying to balance out honesty and privacy is something that I am faced with daily- both personally and professionally.
    I work in mental health- and confidentiality is a HUGE issue (especially when it comes to treatment). Honoring an individuals right to privacy is something that is very important to me- when it comes to work.
    I also have to maintain professional boundaries at work and with clients, which means not divulging too many personal details about me or my life.
    In my personal life however… (inc. my blog), I am prone to want to just spill it all out there… how I’m feeling, what’s going on in my life and relationships, and that always seems to involve other people; because we impact each other. All the time, and in many ways.
    I can see that I might be in some ways shooting myself in the foot by being “too open”, however- I am also aware that this is just me, this is who I am. Being authentic to who I am means acknowledging (sometimes publicly) that I am flawed and emotional and I have faults and bad grammar and I say the wrong things- basically acknowledging that I am human. I think that being aware and open about the messiness of me, makes me a better counselor.
    I see and I have heard that when it comes to sad and or “negative” emotions or thoughts- people should just “keep it to themselves”- and I appreciate and understand that message (I understand many people are uncomfortable with what they’ve learned to be negative emotions- hurt, anger, etc) but I tend to think it’s one of those “better in theory than in practice” kind of things. I think that holding things in, makes people sick.
    I believe that whether we choose to acknowledge something or not, it still happens (ignoring the facts does not mean that they cease to exist). So I guess it comes down to the *choice* of words we use, and in what order we line them up.
    Lacan said: “language is what we use to define ourselves, and language is what we use to define our world, and language is completely inadequate for both of these tasks”.
    Basically, we’re fucked either way.
    We want to express ourselves, to be heard and understood and to seek connection, but we can blow our connections if we say too much, or too little, or use the wrong choice of words…
    I find the world of twitter and blogging very interesting- in that in the grand scheme of things- it’s a whole new way of communicating and it’s an explosion of communication and we are all kinda awkwardly fumbling to find the “right” way to handle ourselves in it, and the “right” way to engage.
    For me- I admit that I’ve been way too out there with some things I’ve written, I’ve said some bad things and been inappropriate, and I’ve had to clean up a lot of messes that I’ve created- which I suppose is the best way to learn… (chalk it up to a “learning curve”).
    Now, in order to be able to feel like I can express my “feelings” without infringing on other peoples boundaries- I’ve gone with a fake name and I talk about my perspective and my feelings, but am vague about the actual details and of individuals involved.
    I’m probably a long ways away from getting it figured out- but at least I’m trying.

    • Neil

      I have mixed feelings about fake names and aliases. Sometimes I wish I used one myself. Other times, I see it as a tool for abuse. People can say what they want without consequence. I know I am wrong for thinking this way, but I appreciate the blogger who says his real name, and stands behind what he writes, although I know it isn’t always practical or wise.

  12. Bootsy LaFontane

    I’m totally cool using my real name for saying personal things- if I have something personal to say, I’ll generally straight up email whomever I have the issue with. These days if you are gonna say something bad about someone- we all know our ip address is going along with that remark -so, even with pen names- is there really anonymity?
    I believe that people should be accountable for the remarks they make- for example I had a bit of a meltdown a while ago and in my crazy fog I wrote a bunch of vague, pissy posts (in and from my real name)… not a proud moment- but I took them down and wrote a heavily apologetic letter. One thing about the internet- if you are upset and prone to being impulsive- total danger zone!
    I think we all make mistakes, what counts is if we take the time and care to clean them up.
    As for using a fake name, I work in mental health- and some individuals (patients/clients) have very poor boundaries and I have had some issues with people being a little too interested in me (obsessed/stalking situations/ assault)- so I’m also going with the fake for personal safety.

  13. Swistle

    Mmmm, I loved this post! Interesting and funny! (“When even COLLEGE KIDS are afraid of looking stupid on Facebook…”)

    I like my current balance: I don’t connect my real name to my blogging name, and I don’t say where I live. But then within that semi-protective circle (“semi-protective” because I try not to kid myself about how strong those barriers are), I talk as frankly as I want to.

  14. Swistle

    Well, okay, not really as frankly as I want to. But I mean I talk as frankly as I want to, taking into account my own ideas of how best to communicate.

  15. Kim @ Beautiful Wreck

    I’ve not read any of the other comments because I am pressed for time but will later.

    I wanted to say that I have been writing on the Internet for well over a decade. I was an online Diarist before I was a blogger. On and off through the years I have blogged about every aspect of my life. I will continue to do so. I will continue to be honest, showing all the flaws and failures along with joys and accomplishments.
    Should people have privacy concerns, yes, but I hope it doesn’t get to the point that you have to question if someone is being authentic or writing fluff.

  16. Danny

    I don’t think “privacy” is the right word here, I think you’re really talking about “disclosure.” And that requires a bit of common sense on what is okay to reveal and what should be left off of all “social media” (God, I hate that term!). For me, blogging IS about sharing and I can’t imagine doing it with a fake name or identity.

    I would love to meet the mommyblogger who feels that posting a photo of your child is exploitation. That makes no sense at all–do such people really exist or did you make that up?

  17. Elisabeth

    After close to five years of blogging, I made my blog private, and started a new one one, also private. I did not reveal my last name, but used my real first name on my blog, also indicated my general geographical location and profession, and it was very easy to identify me from reading my blog.

    I had an “incident” last July, when I wrote a fairly negative account of what I thought was a budding friendship that had kind of died. Well, the woman on whom I wrote read by blog (duh, I had given her its URL) maybe a month later, and was very upset. I apologized profusely, and we made amends.

    You would think that I had learned my lesson. Well… NO! About two months ago, I wrote a post in which I described a colleague in really negative terms. This colleague, from the way I deal with her in real life, would never have known that I harbored those feelings toward her. She was tipped off by a mutual friend/acquaintance (I will never know who it was, and was told by a couple of friends to quit guessing who it was) about my post, and confronted me about it last week. I was mortified (for having been caught, of course), but this confrontation also helped me think about how my lack of self-esteem and my horrific passive-aggressive behavior keep on leading me to this kind of self-sabotaging behavior. Why do I write pissy posts about people who may eventually read them online?

    As long as I live, I will never ever do that again, but will confront folks who piss me off directly.

    I used to love being able to vent on my blog. Now I feel that I can’t say anything anymore. Of course, it’s now private, but I know that I have to refrain from writing nasty stuff about some folks, especially if they have no idea about the way I feel about them.

  18. maggie, dammit

    There have been many times I’ve gone back and changed words in my posts, or deleted entire entries, all of which I feel is my perogative. But what happens when I can’t delete something? How do I know what will come back to bite me, as careful and conscious as I try to be? How much have I changed and do I continue to change? How do I teach my daughters what is appropriate online info and what isn’t, if the definition slides around so freely?

    I don’t know. Love this post, though.

  19. maggie, dammit

    Also, I can’t spell. Dammit.

  20. kelly

    When the focus of the activity becomes talking about the activity itself, it’s dead. All posts on such things as why we do it and its implications should be purged…call it Fahrenheit 4.51. Purity. Thought. Whatever.

  21. muskrat

    interesting thoughts. i worry about privacy from the government more than i do with corporations or nosy neighbors. so did our constitutional framers. my concern is that as we get used to losing it with corporations and neighbors (online and down the street), we won’t care any more about having it from the government, and our sense of outrage over violations of the bill of rights will gradually go away. but that’s just me.

  22. Megan Zuniga

    I’m also glad that kids are wise enough to be concerned of their privacy. I’ve recently learned of a site wherein you can post where you at that very moment. Sure it may be a way for you to stay in touch with your friends But you could also attract the wrong kind of crowd. Another issue is the tweetups or eyeballs or whatever they call it these days. Actually this is already an old issue, your kids meeting strangers online and meeting them in person. Scary world. I actually feel sorry for celebrities (ie..Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan) having their misdemeanor spread over the internet.

  23. Sarah

    Given that the whole point of writing in my blog is to communicate and share my day to day life with friends and family, if I didn’t include some photos now and then of my life (I don’t do it often because my computer is slooooow to upload), what would be the point?

  24. 180|360

    SUCH an interesting post, Neil!

  25. Postmodern Sass

    I think the people who complain about what Facebook uses their information for either have never used Facebook, and so should just SHUT UP ALREADY, or they’re being downright disingenuous. Either way, could someone please make them stop whining?

    I have a Facebook site under my real name, and have everything set for viewing by “only friends” — because I can’t imagine who else might be interested in pictures of me playing guitar, or my cat sitting on my bed, or me on the beach. (Especially me on the beach.)

    On the other hand, when I started my blog six years ago, it never entered my mind to publish those stories under my real name, and I was astonished that there were people (like you, Neil) who did.

  26. Postmodern Sass

    By the way, I absolutely love this phrase used by a couple of your readers above: pissy posts.

  27. Noticias de Tecnologia

    It’s a constant fight between privacy issues and social networks trying that people share more and more.

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